You all know that I'm an Arsenal supporter and, if you've been reading regularly, you also know that my faith has been sorely tested over the last few months. I'm not entirely out of the woods when it comes to my distress about the future of the club but I'm guessing I'm about where Liverpool supporters were when Gilette and Hicks were finally booted from the owners box last season. I feel like we've bottomed out and started the long climb back to a point where we might be able to legitimately challenge for a title. I'll get to some of the specifics in the main body of the article but more so than anything else, this weekend represented a huge emotional lift for Arsenal. It also firmly transferred the pressure generated by the press on teams near the top of the table (rightly or wrongly) from the Gooners to Chelsea who now have similar questions to answer.
Oh, and apparently there were some other matches played over the weekend as well and we'll talk about them a little bit too:
1. Buying - Five players who fully deserve the kudos they are receiving or, if they're not getting their due elsewhere, we'll make sure they do here:
- Juan Mata - You can look at his match in two ways. The first is that he didn't put himself in position for either of his big moments (his assist on Lampard's opener and his goal) - Santos' defending was criminally bad on the former and Lukaku clothes-lined Santos to give Mata space on the latter. The more positive way of looking at it would be that Mata made great plays once he was given those chances regardless of how they came his way. I'm still trying to figure out what to make of him overall. My take is that he's very good but not quite as good as the TV pundits want us to think he is.
- Aaron Ramsey - I have to admit, I was really concerned about him at the start of the season. He looked lost and like he was still gun shy coming off of the injury he sustained. Since his winner in the Champions League he seems to have turned the page and really started to revert to being the player that all Gooners hoped he could become. Like Mata, I'm still not sure what his upside is but he seems to be back on track to finding out which is a great sign for Arsenal as they need a strong midfield to control the ball and minimize their still extremely questionable defense.
- Stephane Sessegnon - He didn't do too much of note last season after coming to the Premier League but this season he seems to have made the step up and is really helping to minimize the recent losses of DBent and Gyan. The fact that at 5' 7" (and that's probably being generous) he managed to get between Collins and Dunne for his late header that saved a point for the Black Cats was remarkable. Sunderland are going to need even more of that next weekend for their trip to Old Trafford.
- Clint Dempsey - He just keeps producing. I'm honestly mystified at why he hasn't been the subject of a (relatively) big money move to a team consistently in the top half. My current thought is that he'd be a great January signing for Newcastle to help give them some depth and additional attacking quality as they try to maintain their elevated status in the table. I'm not current enough on my non-Premier League league situations to suggest teams outside of England but I'm sure there must be a few who could use him.
- Conor Wickham - When a mid-table club buys a young English forward with a fairly big reputation as opposed to one of the big boys dramatically overpaying for him (see Carroll, Andy) you wonder what's wrong with him. I'm not ready to pronounce Wickham the finished article but he certainly seems like he's on track to being at least a better-than-average Premier League forward if he continues to progress. Given the amount of money spent on Peter Crouch, James Beattie, and the like over the course of their careers you have to think the future is bright for Wickham.
- Tom Cleverley - This weekend you get a bonus "Buy" that comes in the form of Tom Cleverley. When confronted with the difference between United's attacking performance before and after Cleverley exited the match one of the chatters on our Barn Door Live Chat yesterday asked "Is he that good?" I'm not sure if the answer is that he's THAT good or that he's just that much better than the alternatives in the center of midfield for United but the difference can't be denied. He's not much of a fantasy player but if you're looking for indications of whether United's other fantasy options are going to produce, his presence in the line-up may be a big leading indicator.
- John Terry - This comment really applies to the entire Chelsea defense but it's more fun to single out the eminently unlikable Terry. He has been declining for quite some time but Arsenal running rampant (it really could/should have been 7 goals for Wenger's boys) puts the exclamation point on a season in which Chelsea have given up at least one bad goal in nearly all of their matches. Bosingwa was also poor so not all the blame can be placed on Terry but he seems to be disintegrating before our eyes (and that's before we take into account that by all reports he's a miserable human being).
- Andre Santos - Fantasy managers loved him yesterday but here's another goal-scoring defender whose performance was only marginally redeemed by the goal he scored. He conspired to allow Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge to run down the attacking right side at will. His poor defending led directly to Mata's cross for Chelsea's opener. He was lucky that Sturridge had a miserable match or he would have been responsible for more damage. He played slightly better in the second half but unless he makes a habit of scoring goals to make up for the ones he lets buy him then he needs to go (or at least get on a fitness program and decide he actually wants to run back on defense).
- Petr Cech - Another cornerstone of the Mourinho Era at Chelsea who is disintegrating before our eyes. His defense certainly didn't help him out but there was a time when you were sure that he'd make 2-3 spectacular saves to bail out his defenders if they let him down. Yesterday, when his defenders needed him he let balls from Walcott, van Persie, and Santos past him on the near side. All of them were well struck but they could all also have been saved by a world class keeper at the height of his powers. Cech is not that guy anymore and if Chelsea are to contend next season (sorry, this season is over for them in the title chase) then they need to take a page from SAF's book and recruit a replacement.
- Chicharito (the fantasy player) - A few problems with the Mexican hit man as it relates to fantasy. The first is rotation - his starts have been uneven. The second is that (with apologies to Buddy Ryan) - all he does is score goals. In the real world, this is a good thing and he gets a lot of deserved love for the ratio of goals scored to minutes played. For fantasy managers, especially in the Yahoo format, this just isn't enough. He has played in 9 of 10 matches this season and due to a combination of rotation and lack of non-goal-scoring production he's been worthwhile in 3 of those 9 and exceptional only twice. My point is not to get too carried away by his one goal and get your hopes up with him.
- Collins/Dunne - How do you let that little guy get between you for a tying header when you're defending a lead late? Apparently this was the weekend for defenders scoring but ultimately disappointing as Dunne also had a goal but couldn't figure out how to mark the diminutive attacker to get Villa the two additional points on the road.
- A good and healthy left back - Gibbs is OK but seems to be on the Ledley King/Jonathan Woodgate/Owen Hargreaves injury plan; Santos is just not good at defending.
- A big name coming in - It may be that the healthy trio of Wilshere, Ramsey, and Arteta is a solid engine room in midfield but Arsenal need to not only improve the overall talent of their squad but combat the notion that they're a selling club/Manchester City feeder team. Only by breaking their policy and paying top dollar will they combat that notion and in the process (hopefully) convince RvP to stay. Hazard would be great as would Gotze but hard to see them ponying up enough money for either.
- Another holding midfielder - It may be that Frimpong and/or Coquelin will turn into excellent players once they're old enough to shave regularly but Arsenal have a gap between Song and these two that they haven't filled since Flamini went off to Italy - a good back-up at holding midfielder.
- A beast at the back - I've heard it mentioned that Mertesacker plays well for Germany with a faster central partner to compliment him but watching him try to mark John Terry yesterday makes me wonder how a speedy partner would have helped there as he looked helpless on what was only OK execution by Chelesa. How they have failed to just buy Chris Samba is a bit of a mystery. Will they buy yet another central defender after they bought Per in August? Certainly seems like they need to.
- My Words > My Actions - As I predicted in The Week Ahead, Gareth Bale was The Man for Spurs. While it is good for my ego to have been right in my column, it does my team no good when I don't follow my own advice. I did have VDV which will turn out well but in picking Modric and not finding a way to get to Bale I did my team a pretty huge disservice. If you're curious, my words are having a much better season than my actual fantasy team. Pretty frustrating having to a) watch Spurs win; b) watch the guy I predicted racking up the fantasy points; and c) watch the guys I DID pick (K2 and Modric) waste their chances. In the real world, well done by Spurs to win one they were supposed to win and not let Arsenal or Liverpool back into the race for fourth. One question that you could ask after watching the last two weekends, who is ahead in the race for 3rd? Spurs or Chelsea? With a match in hand Spurs are even on points and have more quality wins than Chelsea. Chelsea have better depth and bigger names but Spurs are playing better. Just something to think about as we continue to call them the "Big Three" and the "Next Three".
- [SPACE HELD FOR NUFC/STOKE NOTE]